December in Sydney is a wonderful time of the year: the weather is superb (lending itself to alfresco dining and barbeques), people are in good spirits, and the produce at this time of the year is amazing. Although there are many people around the globe who find the idea of spending Christmas and New Years Eve in warm weather strange (my Dutch husband is one of them!) I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So when Foodbuzz announced its latest 24, 24, 24 competition 3 weeks ago, I seized the opportunity to design my ultimate NYE dinner incorporating everything great about this time of the year. 

What I came up with was a 10-course seafood degustation menu with matching Australian wines, the food being cooked on the barbeque and the meal enjoyed al fresco.   Even though I entertain regularly, I have never undertaken a sit-down meal of this complexity before. But my love of cooking and passion for great food and wine and eating meant I was up for the challenge!


The location of this extravaganza was my home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. My husband Paul and I live with our 2 cats and 2 dogs in a lovely home which backs onto a bushland reserve. We have a large outside deck, which is perfect for entertaining and captures the views of the valley. Many different species of birds can be found in our garden, and regularly visit the bird-feeder on our deck. We also have many possums which visit regularly!

Our deck in a bushland setting
Our deck in a bushland setting


Due to the magnitude of the meal, the group was a intimate one.  Unfortunately we had a late cancellation, making the group smaller than I would have liked but the show must go on! The invitees all have a strong culinary appreciation (a pre-requisite) and were:

Guy and Jo – my brother & his wife

Austin – my 2 year old nephew

Peter and Rosemary – Good friends and neighbours of ours, who live 3 doors up

Ainsley and Missi – our 2 dogs

Myself and Paul

(Our 2 cats Trixie and Bluey were not invited, as we do not allow them outside due to the abundant wildlife).

Guy and Austin
Guy and Austin
Peter & Rosemary
Peter & Rosemary
Ainsley and Missi enjoying the fun
Ainsley and Missi enjoying the fun


The flavours in the menu were largely Asian-influenced, which is perfect for our warm climate at this time of the year. The wines selected to match each course were all Australian. Many were sourced from the Hunter Valley, which is the closest wine-growing region to Sydney and Paul and I visit regularly to add to our wine collection. 

Sydney Rock Oysters with Japanese Dressing
2000 Marsh Estate Cremant (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Seared Peppered Tuna with a Macadamia Curry Compote
2005 Bundaleera Pinot Noir (Relbia, Tasmania)
Tiger Prawn Skewers with Coriander Pesto
2006 Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc (Frankland River, WA)
Grilled Scallops in the Shell with Peanut Nahm Jim
2007 Pipers Brook Pinot Gris (Tamar Valley, Tasmania)
Whole Snapper Vietnamese Style
1995 Petaluma Riesling (Clare, SA)
Spiced Moreton Bay Bug Tail
1995 Rosemount Estate Semillon (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Smoked Rum-Soaked Tasmanian Salmon with Mango Salsa
2006 Krinklewood Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, NSW)
2006 Petersons Voignier (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Festive Tropical Trifle
2005 Tamburlaine Late Harvest Riesling (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Hazelnut Pavlova with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream & Summer Fruits
2007 Briar Ridge Botrytis Semillon (Hunter Valley, NSW)
Salads and sourdough bread accompanied the main courses.


The day started with a trip to the Sydney Fish Market, about a 25 minute drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was a picture perfect day, and the harbour was sparkling as we crossed the bridge. NYE is the second busiest day of the year for the Sydney Fish Market (Christmas Eve being the busiest) and the place was buzzing! What a fabulous selection of seafood – we are so fortunate in Sydney to have such an abundance and selection.  I found everything I needed pretty quickly, and the staff were helpful despite the huge crowds. Next it was off to the local greengrocers – Green Street Grocers – to buy fruit and veg. The quality of their produce is consistently good, which is why I choose to shop there.

Travelling to Fish Markets
Travelling to the Sydney Fish Markets
Busy day for Sydney Fish Market
Busy day for Sydney Fish Market


With such a lot of food to prepare, the food preparation started the previous day, with the majority of the food preparation done on the day prior to the guests arriving. Naturally, the cooking of most of the seafood took place on the evening, the barbequing adding theatrics to the evening. Here are a number of the recipes, with the photos telling the story:

Sydney Rock Oysters with Japanese Dressing

1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
18 shucked Sydney rock oysters
To garnish:  finely sliced shallots

Advance Preparation:
1. Combine the soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

When ready to serve:
2. Spoon the dressing over the oysters. Garnish with the shallots.

Sydney Rock Oysters with Japanese Dressing
Sydney Rock Oysters with Japanese Dressing

Home-Smoked Rum-Soaked Tasmanian Salmon with Mango Salsa:

Ingredients (serves 4 as an entree or 6 as part of a degustation menu):
600g Salmon fillets (without skin)
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper

Mango Salsa

Advance Preparation:
1. Remove any bones from the salmon with tweezers. 
2. Place the salmon fillets in a baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Pour the rum over the salmon. Marinate for 15 minutes turning once.
Soaking the Salmon in Rum
Soaking the Salmon in Rum

3. Drain the salmon fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the rum and clean the baking dish.
4. Combine the sugar, salt and black pepper in a bowl (the cure). 
5. Spread one third of the cure over the bottom of the baking dish. Lay the salmon on top and sprinkle the remaining cure on top.
6. Cover with plastic food wrap and let cure in the refrigerator for 4 hours (the cure will draw out liquid from the salmon).

Curing the salmon in brown sugar and salt
Curing the salmon in brown sugar and salt

7. Rinse the cure from the salmon with cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
8. Prepare barbecue to a low heat (105 degrees C)
9. Add 1 1/2 cups of apple wood to the barbeque. 
10. Place salmon on the barbeque and smoke for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Smoking the salmon on the BBQ
Smoking the salmon on the BBQ

11. Test fish for readiness by feeling whether its firm and breaks into clean flakes. 

When ready to serve:
12. Serve the salmon with Mango Salsa.

Home-Smoked Rum-Soaked Salmon with Mango Salsa
Home-Smoked Rum-Soaked Salmon with Mango Salsa

Spiced Moreton Bay Bug Tails

60g butter, melted
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lime rind
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted then crushed in a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon sea salt
8 green Moreton Bay bugs (ask the fishmonger to cut them in half & clean them for you)
To serve: lime wedges

Advance preparation:
1. In a small jug, whisk together butter, lime juice, garlic, lime rind, coriander and salt.

Preparing the sauce for the bug tails
Preparing the sauce for the bugs

When ready to serve:
2. Preheat a barbeque to high heat.
3. Brush bugs with butter mixture. Barbecue for 3-5 minutes each side, or until golden and cooked through.

Barbequing the Bug Tails, brushed with the spice butter
Barbequing the Bug Tails, brushed with the spice butter

4. Serve Balmain bugs with lime wedges.

Spiced Moreton Bay Bug Tails
Spiced Moreton Bay Bug Tails
Seared Peppered Tuna with a Macadamia Curry Compote

Ingredients (serves 4 as an entree or 6 as part of a degustation menu):
400g piece of sashimi-grade tuna
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Macadamia Curry Compote:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon sambal olek
1 teaspoon Asian Shrimp paste (belacan/terasi) wrapped in foil and roasted at 180°C for 10 minutes
½ cup chopped coriander leaves
50 g roasted macadamia nuts, chopped
20g brown sugar
½ cup coconut cream

To garnish:  lime halves and chives

Advance preparation:
1. Dry roast the peppercorns, Sichuan peppers, salt and coriander seeds in a small frying pan over a low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.  Cool, then pound in a mortar and pestle until coarsely ground, add sesame seeds and combine well.
2. Coat tuna on all sides with pepper mix, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Coating the Tuna with peppers and seeds
Coating the Tuna with peppers and seeds
3. Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan and cook tuna over a very high heat for 30 seconds on each side or until just seared (tuna should still be raw in the middle).
4. Cool slightly and then, while still warm, wrap in plastic food wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
5. For the macadamia curry compote: heat oil in a small frying pan, add all ingredients except sugar and coconut cream and cook for 6-8 minutes or until onion is soft.  Stir in sugar and coconut cream and simmer for another 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate until serving time.
Preparing the Macadamia Curry Compote
Preparing the Macadamia Curry Compote
When ready to serve:
6. Cut the tuna into 24 thin slices and divide among plates. Place a spoonful of curry compote in the middle and top with chives and lime halves.
Seared Peppered Tuna with a Macadamia Curry Compote
Seared Peppered Tuna with a Macadamia Curry Compote


The weather could not have been better for the occasion. It was warm without being too hot, no wind and a perfectly clear day and night. The guests arrived at 7:30pm, and we enjoyed a lovely sunset with visiting rainbow lorikeets.

These Rainbow Lorikeet joined our party early in the evening
These Rainbow Lorikeet joined our party early in the evening
I set a festive table with a lovely batik tablecloth which I received as a Christmas gift from a friend. Menus were placed in front of each setting, allowing the guests to see what was to come.
The table setting
The table setting


Everyone was in good spirits, and as recommended, everyone arrived with a healthy appetite! As the courses came one by one, the guests were amazed at the diversity of the dishes and the different Asian flavours.

Paul is missing as he took the photo!
Paul is missing as he took the photo!
Amazingly, there were no culinary disasters and everyone enjoyed everything (except for the first course, as Guy dislikes oysters).  There was just one little hiccup – Paul took the whole fish off the barbeque and I garnished it with salad and presented it on a platter. I then commenced serving the fish, only to realise that it was very raw inside! Off went the salad and the fish went back on the barbeque for a further 15 minutes. The twice cooked fish was still delicious and very tender!
Needless to say, there was more than enough food, and by dessert time we were all so full we could hardly move!
Here are some of the comments from the evening from the guests:

Oysters – “Lovely light dressing which enhances but does not dominate the beautiful flavour of the oysters”

Prawns – “Very Australian, prawns on the barbeque! The coriander pesto really complemented the flavour of the prawns”

Tiger Prawn Skewers with Coriander Pesto
Tiger Prawn Skewers with Coriander Pesto

Salmon – “A winner”

Scallops – “Divine – the Nahm Jim is delicious”

Grilled Scallops in the Shell with Peanut Nahm Jim
Grilled Scallops in the Shell with Peanut Nahm Jim

Tuna – “Really exquisite”

Fish – “Really lovely, the presentation beautiful”

Whole Snapper Vietnamese Style
Whole Snapper Vietnamese Style

Pavlova – “Lovely way to finish the meal”

Hazelnut Pavlova with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream & Summer Fruits
Hazelnut Pavlova with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream & Summer Fruits


The key to successful entertaining is planning and organisation. Lists, checklists, and advance preparation will ensure your occasion is seamless and will allow you to feel like a guest at your own party, instead of a kitchen slave.

When putting together the menu, choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time as much as possible. Remember to take into account your guests’ dietary restrictions, and know your limitations (cooking skills and available time). Keep the menu balanced (flavours, texture, colour). Make your shopping list, remembering to adjust the recipe quantities for the required number of guests. Don’t forget to check your pantry and refrigerator to determine what you already have.

Do an inventory of glassware, tableware, cutlery, serving ware, table linen and equipment. Make a list of what you need to hire, borrow or buy if necessary.

Make a timeline of all the things you need to do prior to your party. For example, purchase the groceries, press the linen, select the music, clean the house, set the table, chill the wine, buy some fresh flowers, etc.

Determine approximately how long the food preparation will take (many recipes give an indication of preparation time) and make a list of the order you will prepare the dishes, noting any dishes that can be prepared a day or two ahead. Always read each recipe in its entirely first so you know if some foods require advance preparation such as marinating. I recommend you read the article “How to read and follow a recipe”. Remember to factor in time for clearing up between each recipe.

Make a running sheet of everything that needs to be done once your guests arrive, including times. For example, pre-heat the oven at 7:00pm, put the potatoes in the oven at 7:15pm for 30 minutes, etc. This way you will know exactly what needs to be done and when, and everything will run smoothly. It is also a useful reminder if you have enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine!

Another tip which I’m glad I followed last night was to label everything. With so many sauces and marinades for the various courses, there is no way I would have determined what went with what if they weren’t labelled!


The planning, preparation and execution of a 10 course degustation menu was certainly a great experience which I enjoyed immensely. It was a huge amount of work, which was rewarded by beautiful food and appreciative guests.

Happy New Year to all of you and may 2009 be filled with lovely food and friends!

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  1. Awesome! Your wonderful dinner description brought back wonderful memories of my travel to Sydney. It’s really one of my favorite cities in the world!

  2. Thanks Natasha! It was a fabulous meal with a lot of work involved, but it really epitomised everything great about being in Sydney at this time of the year.

  3. Yes it was a delicious meal and I too love seafood, especially cooked on the barbeque. I have passed you website on to my husband, who is a barbeque / grill fanatic. Check out his blog at

  4. Gail,

    What a cracker. The Tuna looked fab. How did the Bundalera Pinot go with it


  5. Salmon in rum, oysters… You made a heavenly dinner! And Ainsley and Missi are adorable! Happy New Year!

  6. Happy New Year Marija! Yes it was a heavenly meal and I am still full from it 2 days later! Missi and Ainsley are barrels of fun and as you can see they enjoyed themselves as much as we did!

  7. Hi Geoff, you can’t beat a good Tassie Pinot Noir! Give the tuna a go (recipe above) but only if you want to splash out as you need good Sashima Tuna (I paid $100 a kg on NYE at the fish markets…)

  8. Gail, this sounds wonderful. I am thinking that I should try the salmon using a smoker I got. Sounds very interesting curing it with rum. Also, what are Bay Bug Tails?

    Definitely was a fun event!

  9. Hi Denise, thanks for your comment. Bugs are a popular Australian seafood, a member of the lobster family. The taste and texture is similar to lobster and they are delicious barbequed, served in salads and with pasta and risotto. I’m not sure if you have them in the US, but lobster tails or jumbo shrimp would be a good substitute.

  10. That’s more than a seafood feast; it’s definitely a smorgasbord. Your photos are gorge too. We love reading up on all of the 24 posts since we did one as well. Good eats!

  11. It was indeed a lot of food!

  12. Mmmm. You’re making me hungry. I love seafood so I think I would have really enjoyed that dinner. Nice job. I love that you did all the wine pairings as well.

  13. Thanks Kelly – pairing the wines was as much fun as planning the menu!

  14. 10 courses… WOW!! You did an amazing job! Everything looks beautiful! I had so much fun doing the december foodbuzz 24 24 24, we had a crazy unique sushi night!

  15. Wow! My 24, 24,24 was only 7 courses with wine! You really did a beautiful job. Well done!

  16. That looks great, especially the seafood! Y’all had a great time 🙂

  17. We are very fortunate in Australia – we have a large selection of seafood available year-round.

  18. stumbled upon your blog from the 24,24,24. I am very impressed with the 10 courses degustation! Bravo!

  19. Thanks billy@ATFT there was certainly a lot of work involved but all a lot of fun and the results were well worth the effort.

  20. Wow…. I’m so sorry we missed this fabulous function…. all looks fantastic.

  21. We missed you too Laurel! The food really was great – I don’t think you can go wrong with Aussie seafood on the BBQ!

  22. Awesome, awesome meal. I think yours is the best of all of the 24, 24, 24 this round. I love that you had all the wine pairing.

    That smoked salmon is calling my name. Yum!

    So the bugs are prawns or langoustines?

  23. Thanks Nate, yes the wine pairing was a lot of fun – we are very fortunate in Australia to have a diverse selection of wines, many of which go particularly well with seafood.

    Bugs are indeed similar to a langoustine – a member of the same family I believe. You could certainly substitute langoustines in the recipe, as you could lobster tails or jumbo shrimp.

  24. I just found your blog entry and had to say the meal looked fantastic! I have recently moved to Sydney and the food you cooked is just what I have been craving. A great article- thank you!

  25. Trudy Hurley says:

    Wow!! You really excelled with the New Years degestation!!!
    I am so sorry that we missed it – especially the whole snapper, that looks absolutely grand!! Actually everything looked great.
    Well done Gail & Paul!!

  26. Camilla – welcome to Sydney and I hope my blog post inspires you to cook with our amazing selection of seafood.

    Trudy – we missed you too! Hopefully you will be able to make the next grand dinner event.

  27. hi. Just wanted to say that I used the recipe for the tuna last night for our 6 course degustation and, having never cooked tuna in my life, it was utterly delicious even if I do say so myself!! The compote was awesome even though I nearly didn’t make it because of the list of ingredients, but then I read the instructions and realised it was actually very, very easy to make! Glad I went through with it.

    thank you for your wonderful ideas. We cant afford to give friends expensive presents so giving them wonderful memories and gorgeous food makes up for it!


  28. Hi Gaye, thank you for your comment, I’m so glad you enjoyed the tuna dish. You’re right, the compote is delicious and not at all difficult to make!

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